A Spot Of Tea

[trip style = staycation + sightseeing + weekend getaway]

"There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea." - Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

With a white napkin draped over my lap, and my thumb and index finger gingerly locked around the tea cup's handle, I rest and indulge in a famous tradition. As a matter of function, not fashion, my pinky extends outward as I sip a spot of tea at the West Coast spot for tea.

Taking tea in Victoria's Fairmont Empress tea lobby feels like a right of passage. Being invited to what some would call a ceremony is like I'm trip style = sightseeing, peering into the rituals of another time. But instead of standing for hours with a recorded history lesson on an audio set, I'm comfortably seated in the same chintz-covered seat as the ones who came before me when the tradition first started with the hotel's opening in 1908. Even the gold-rimmed china's design is the same today as when it was first introduced for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth's visit in 1939, and the tables sitting between every vintage wing back chair are crafted with floorboards from an early 1900s refurbishment.

Tea service begins with a glass goblet of blueberries, not a cup of tea. We must wait for the piece de resistance, no? Feeling tropical---maybe it was the sun streaming through the windowpanes---I choose the Kea Lani Orange Pineapple blend. Its Hawaiian flavours make it seem as though the pianist is strumming on a ukulele with a plumeria behind her ear. When the three-tiered feast is placed on our small table, I am brought back to the present and the piano keys continue their dance.

Admiring my mid-day meal, it's clear you are supposed to work your way up, starting at the bottom. The healthiest tier happens to be the most savoury, with finger sandwiches filled with egg, cucumber and mango and curried chicken---crustless of course! The middle tier acts as the breather, counterbalancing the beginning and end with a pot of clotted cream, raspberry jam and a firm raisin scone. Staring at the stacked plates of treats, I could not help myself, I had to sample the top tier's pink fondant-wrapped checkered cake, and chocolate tulip first. Once the tempting taster was out of the way, I could resume normal behaviour and work my way up.

After four cups of tea and three tiers of food, I'm done. I didn't know afternoon tea could be so filling. Now I understand why the 7th Duchess of Bedford, credited with popularizing the afternoon tea trend in London, sent out invitations requesting "tea and a walking of fields." Good thing Beacon Hill Park is just around the corner!

Tea Etiquette*
  • There are three types of tea: afternoon tea is taken with finger sandwiches and pastries, high tea at 4pm with hot food, and royal tea is served with a glass of Champagne.
  • Do not take tea lightly, dress up for the occasion.
  • The raising or extension of the pinky is not just for show, but to counterbalance the tea cup.
  • Never loop your fingers through the handle, nor grasp the base with the palm of your hand.
  • Fold in milk and sugar, do not stir.
  • Do not leave your spoon in the cup.
  • When not in use, place the tea cup back in the saucer.
  • Milk is served with tea, not cream.
  • When serving lemon with tea, slices are preferable, not wedges.

Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress can be enjoyed year-round and starts at $47 per person. Special menus and prices are available for kids.

PS - Experience tea's treats from another side. The Fairmont Empress offers kids under 16 the opportunity to apprentice with their award-winning pastry chef, and leave with just-made goodies, a chef hat, personalized apron and certificate to take home!

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*Source {photos by @tripstyler}